I can't decide how many stars to give this. The story was quite strong when it followed Rosario's early experiences and challenges in school. Her mother and brother were portrayed from Rosario’s point of view and one could easily see why she admired and idolized them. I loved the descriptions of her visits to Mexico, and her struggle to find a place for herself within the two cultures in conflict.
However, I felt the ending was rushed. I saw that the author is defined in one venue as a romance writer, but other than a section near the end, I wouldn’t define the book that way. It’s more of a coming of age work of fiction. The romance seemed a bit rushed and overplayed, but that could be just me. I prefer relationships to be a thread finely interwoven in a narrative that could well stand on its own without it, and my limited experience with genre romances are that they sacrifice plot for portrayals of passion. Was Rosario’s immediate and rather out-of-character attraction to Aaron an understandable first love experience for someone who’d consciously put off relationships as a teen in her determination to go to college? If so, perhaps she felt it was safe in her senior year to give in to it. But his character seemed almost unbelievably idealized. His family members were just the opposite and were almost cardboard stereotypes. Perhaps the author wanted to set the stage for an exploration of subtler forms of bigotry, but to do that the characters would need a little more shading. As they are, they’re obviously bigots, despite their protestations.
The book excels at describing the devastating effects that a cruel or indifferent teacher has on a student, in comparison to the life-changing influences that supportive and encouraging mentors can have. Rosario’s character develops quite a bit to come to terms with the conflicting cultural pressures in her life, and she certainly grows as a person. I suspect that she’ll always have some tendency to either idealize or negatively dismiss those she comes across, but that could simply be an apt portrayal by the author of a normal human. In any case, I wish her well, and would likely read more about her. I did download more books by author Mia Rodriguez from Smashwords, avoiding carefully those that seemed to be exclusively romances. :-) There do seem to be a range of works by her, so the exclusive genre label doesn’t seem quite right.
(review of free book)